When an ice-bridge collapsed during a trek across Alaska, Tim Hansell fell into a crevasse and broke his neck. He survived and somehow stumbled back to civilization but with life-altering injuries. Waking up each day in pain has forged a certain kind of resilience he otherwise would never have known. Hansell has written some popular books about the choice to embrace life as a gift rather than a curse.
Emotional pain confronts us with the same choice. In the form of a question, the choice is to ask either “What next?” or “Why me? The question you choose will define you. Over time, it can either feed or starve your soul.
Here are three things that keep us from asking the better question:
The Blame game
In Brene Brown’s research on shame and vulnerability she found that blame can be “a way to discharge pain and discomfort.” Using blame to treat symptoms of pain keeps the cause in the shadows. You can’t bury negative feelings without soiling positive ones in the process.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Lock it up safe in the coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.” – C.S. Lewis
The Bid for Power
Some people embrace victimhood. They buy the “why-me” t-shirt and attract codependents with all kinds of good intentions. But their advocates often are driven by their own pain. “If I help her get even, then perhaps I’ll feel better.” Using a victim as a platform to coerce public opinion looks a lot like empathy, but it’s about power. The message? “I represent the victim, so either sign-on to my specific approach to compassion, or be quiet.”
J. Oliver Conroy points out an important, unintended consequence of defining people by their pain:
If every messy and intractable problem in society can be blamed on abstract, single-causal phenomena – “white supremacy,” “structural oppression,” “patriarchal heterosexism” – there is no motivation to master the technical complexity of public policy, or build electorally viable political platforms, or to entertain alternative theories of – and potential solutions to – inequality.
Where is the motivation to generate light and heat when merely cursing the darkness produces such leverage for power?
The Loss of Hope
What should we expect from a generation that reduces people to some part of their identity, even in the interest of justice? Such political expediency consigns human worth to the confines of a material world. When pigeon-holes of class, race, gender, and party are preferred to the language and vision and transcendence, we downgrade hope to cope.
“Soul” is a barrier against reduction, against human life reduced to biology and genitalia, culture and utility, race and ethnicity. It signals an interiority that permeates all exteriority, an invisibility that everywhere inhabits visibility. – Eugene Peterson
Which question provides the marinade of your daily thoughts? Why me or what next?
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart…” Ecclesiastes 3:11.